And so, it begins a new, the annual town budget process. Each year budgets are proposed and presented to joint meetings of the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance. Each year, the Government Access Television channel covers these presentations, live and with rebroadcasts.
I attended the meeting this evening because I am on the Government Access Television commission and our proposed budget was being presented. As is typically the case, the GAT presentation went quickly with lots of congenial remarks. I stuck around for discussions about the Fire Department budget and various other budgets. There were discussions about the need for an updated Town Plan of Conversation and Development, of changes to the Grand List and the re-evaluation that will come in 2014. There was talk of building permits and new generators being installed in town. It all seemed very routine, almost like a New England version of Mayberry RFD.
Members of other commissions came and went as their budgets were presented. Perhaps many of the townsfolk were watching on TV, but no showed up at town hall if they weren't somehow involved with a department presenting.
Some people are pleased with this. To them, it means that the people of Woodbridge are satisfied with the way the town is being run, happy to leave the decisions in the hands of those that they've elected. Yet the municipal elections have small turnouts. Personally, I'd much rather see many more people showing up at these budget presentations and talking afterwards. I'd much rather see a great turnout in the municipal elections.
In the spring, the budget will be presented to the town as a whole. We will gather in the gym at the old Center School. GAT will again record and broadcast it. Towns people will get up and complain about how the budget "seemed to have been negotiated in secret". They will call for greater "Integrity, Transparency, Accountability", in spite of having not shown up at previous public meetings or spoken up in the past. They will speak about how the "sense of everyone working together for the best interest of the town as a whole, [has] began to evaporate."
Inevitably, someone will stand up and this meeting and talk about how the members of the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance have put in long hours at public meetings, speaking congenially, trying to come up with the best budget for the town, and the real problem is that those who complain the loudest are the ones that don't come to the public meetings.
Then, the budget gets passed, the municipal elections are held, and we move into the slower summer months.
I grew up in a small town and watched these yearly cycles, as regular as the seasons. After college, I wanted more excitement and moved to the big city. Now, as I get older, I have returned to a small town similar to the one I grew up in, with the same frustrating, and somehow comforting, patterns of life.
Yesterday, I wrote about various town halls that are happening around the State of Connecticut as the 2013 session of the Connecticut General Assembly take shape. I also mentioned, in passing, a little bit about virtual town halls. Today, I want to explore this idea in a little more detail. Please, consider joining my effort to get a good virtual town hall going.
On the Connecticut General Assembly website there are various lists of bills that have been introduced for this session. Some bills are listed by the chamber they were introduced in. Others are listed by the committees they've been referred to. Some bills will get to the point of having a public hearing, where people can come in, talk for about three minutes about why they support or oppose the bill, or, in some cases, even talk about amendments they think would make the bills better. However, with the public hearings, there is no real dialog and discourse between people testifying about the bills, except maybe informally standing around the committee conference room.
I was recently on a phone call with a person interested in promoting deliberative discourse and we talked about how there aren't great sites for doing this. I mentioned a few different sites that might have potential to do some of this, so I explored what it might be like to try this for legislation.
In my mind, such a site would have a list of bills, with different ways of finding the bills, based on who supports or opposes the bills, what committees they've been referred to, tags about specific topics in the bills, and so on. Each bill would have the ability to have comments. The comments would be threaded so people could comment on comments. Ideally, a thread about comments could fork off of a discussion and perhaps join other discussions. We often see this in computer software and various systems for tracking changes in software have the ability to support different sets of changes to a program that are related to one another, but not other changes. Something like this could be good for discussions about bills as well.
One of the first systems I thought about to use something like this was branch, and I set up House List of Bills 1/23/2013. I sent out a message via Twitter about it, but haven't gotten any responses yet. Without a bunch of people participating, I can't test to see how well Branch handles these sort of discussions, but I haven't seen a good way to do some of the discussions I've been talking about. It may be that there is some way to do this, and I'm just not finding it.
Another system that I like is Pearltrees. I did a bit of work with Pearltrees a year or two ago, but set it aside. I've revisited it. I've set up the 2013 CT General Assembly Bills Pearltree. Again, I spread the word on social media, and one person followed this. As you might guess from the name of the system, it is focused on trees; there is a strict hierarchy. You can change the hierarchy quickly and easily, but any link always has just one direct parent. This makes the idea of looking at bills different ways more difficult, but not insurmountable. You can duplicate a pearl to be in multiple trees and when you add a comment to one pearl, it is shared in other pearls. You can also add notes, but the notes don't seem to get duplicated between different pearls. There are advantages and disadvantages to this. Pearltrees also shares nicely to Facebook and Google+. Right now, I'm thinking I'll explore this most.
All of this made me think of another system I had tried a few years ago called Mixed Ink. I went back to revisit it, but they have a fremium model and I don't think I can do the testing I want, without paying for an upgrade, and I don't know if it is worth it.
So, anyone want to join a virtual town hall to talk about different bills?
Earlier this month, I organized a Citizen's Town Hall where people from Woodbridge and the surrounding area could come and discuss the issues to be addressed in Hartford this year. It was a nice, informal little gathering with about a dozen people showing up, including people from the League of Women Voters and State Rep. Lezlye Zupkus and others. We talked about how there have been other gatherings like this, sponsored by the league and other groups and how we thought it would be good to continue meeting like this. We briefly introduced ourselves and talked a little bit about the issues we hoped to see addressed in Hartford. We agreed to meet again on Thursday, Feb 7th at 6:30 PM, again at Wheeler's Market-Cafe in Woodbridge.
Since then, Rep. Zupkus has announced that she will be holding a town hall in Bethany on Tuesday, January 29th at 6:30 PM. State Rep. Themis Klarides announced that she would be participating in that town hall.
I also received an email from Rep. Brandon McGee that he will be holding four town halls in his district between January 22nd and Feb 13th. It is great to see more opportunities for people to come together and address issues in Hartford.
On top of this, several people have been sharing various bills that have been introduced in Hartford via Facebook, creating a sort of virtual town hall. One person posted a link to AN ACT PROVIDING FREE ADMISSION TO AND PARKING AT STATE PARKS FOR CONNECTICUT VETERANS and another posted a link to AN ACT CONCERNING A SINGLE-PAYER HEALTH CARE SYSTEM, introduced by State Senator Joe Crisco from Woodbridge.
I've also set up a Facebook Interest Group of state legislators that I am friends of or who have publicly accessible Facebook Pages that I've found. You can see what some of the State Legislators are up to on the list.
It seems like this could be a good year for discussing what goes on in the Connecticut General Assembly, and I hope many people participate.
The light snow was enough to turn the the minimal Martin Luther King Day evening commute into a traffic jam, so I sat in the car listening to reports of inauguration day. At lunch time, I watched President Obama's speech with coworkers who spend a lot of time focused on effective communications. It seemed like the pundits had heard a different speech, but perhaps that reflects the different frameworks we heard it from.
On the news, people talked about the speech in terms of the political conflicts of the day. Did President Obama extend enough of an olive branch to get us past the next debt ceiling deliberation or fiscal cliff folly? Will he be able to make headway on the legislative agenda implied in his speech? It all seemed so transactional, so petty, so caught in the moment.
I listened to it from a broader perspective, where did it fit on the arc of history, from the Gettysburg Address and Emancipation Proclamation to Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech? I've often bewailed the lack of great speeches in modern day politics. Perhaps it is because of the focus on the soundbite and the immediate win. This speech did not have those flaws, or, as it seems some modern day pundits believe, those essential elements.
It fit well with the inauguration poem; 'One Today'. The poem, like the inaugural address was not part of some transactional moment, but instead took its appropriate place on the arc of history. As I watched Richard Blanco and thought of Chief Justice Roberts, I thought that Blanco had the loftier seat. Inauguration poems are something to remember, to savor, much more than so many of the Supreme Court decisions.
I remember the inauguration of a college president I attended. The inaugural poet was Denise Levertov, and her words have stuck with me for decades. I remember reading a story about about a farmwife heading to the county fair, and only seeing the quilts. For me, I'll remember the wordcraft. Later, I shall spend time reading Blanco's poems. Bu now, bedtime approaches. I'm tired, but still I must pause to practice putting words together and praise those who have do so, so eloquently.
For Allen Ginsberg and Aaron Swartz
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness.
The angry fix they sought was far different from that of Ginsberg's friends.
These hipsters were typing something other than 'starry dynamo' into the search engines.
They were Google mapping the seats of power at midday, not the negro streets at dawn.
They were fighting a in new revolution, a revolution that would take their life and liberty.
A junkie with a knife can be scary. He'll take the cash in your pockets and rush off for his fix,
leaving you shaken as you walk home. But a hacker with a mission, now that is dangerous.
He will shake the very means of production and distribution, the economy you depend upon
to get that cash into your pockets.
It's all well and good when they take down an Arab dictator.
It's tolerable when they change the news media and political process, as long as it can be co-opted by the press and politicians.
But when they start threatening the profitability of the legal and academic presses in the greatest democracy of the world, they must be hounded, driven underground, labeled hacker and felon, until they kill themselves.